NEW YORK — Underwear maker Hanes isn’t known for provocative marketing—its ads have starred universally likable stars like Michael Jordan, Kevin Bacon and Matthew Perry. So executives at the Winston-Salem, N.C.–based company were taken aback when a series of shocking print ads for Hanes began popping up on the Internet this month, all featuring cartoons of derogatory ethnic and sexual stereotypes.
The three print ads, which each ran once in India, were purportedly for Hanes’ tagless underwear and featured the tagline “Hanes. Because the world gives you enough tags.” Each ad was centered on a highly conceptual drawing of stereotypical images of certain groups, including gay, black and Indian men—with words like “faggot” and “paki” glaringly featured in each ad.
While a careful viewer can see that the ads are meant to decry these labels and stereotypes, the in-your-face images drew heated debate on advertising and cultural blogs in the U.S., as the campaign came to light here around April 11.
As it turns out, however, Hanesbrands Inc. never authorized the ads, according to the company. The campaign was created independently by its Indian advertising agency, the Mumbai office of McCann Erickson, in order to be entered into advertising competitions. McCann Erickson paid for the ads to run in The Free Press Journal, an English-language newspaper in Mumbai, in late December, without the proper reviews by Hanes executives.